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Grow by recognizing the limits of male leadership

Friday, April 5, 2013   (0 Comments)
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By Dr. Keith Merron

I grew up among boys who played games like boys. We learned the language of boys and men, and we were taught, explicitly and implicitly, what it meant to be a successful man. In other words, I grew up in a male culture.

 I learned that being a successful man meant acting with honor, protecting and defending, and being a good provider to family and community. It meant respecting the hierarchy and your elders, for they have much to teach. It also meant going out and getting what you want, that ambition is good and doing the right thing. These are all good things and things I respect and embody when I am at my best. They are also very useful in the business world.

Along the way, I learned some other things – you have to fight for what you want and believe in, you have to look out for Number One, success and money go hand in hand and status matters. In boy/man culture in the United States, directness is seen as strength, it’s a dog-eat-dog world and women are objectified. The rules of the game are these: If you’re smarter, tougher or cleverer, you can get ahead. As a result, I learned to manipulate others for my own gain, rig the system to my benefit within the boundaries of the law and claw my way to the top. These are all things I and the other boys never questioned. They were universal truths.

As a result of these lessons, men naturally and unconsciously create and recreate systems and processes and practices in our businesses that look, feel and embody the lessons of our youth. Yes, business is a "man’s world.” Historically, women are allowed in, but only if they follow the rules of male culture.

Women, it seems, can play in this world and even succeed, but only if they play the game as the rules are supposedly meant to be played, at least as defined by male culture. There are many women who have played by these rules quite well and have risen to the top.

Male rules and results

Historically, the rules of the game have not been questioned because they have worked well, if you define success by male culture. There is more wealth, more technological advancement, more freedom and even less strife in the world than ever before. And usually, the most deserved people can and do rise to the top. The system works – well, sort of.

These rules have negative unintended consequences. I addition to all that we enjoy, there are also enormous division between the haves and the have-nots, there are clear inequities in the business world and elsewhere, there is mounting evidence of global warming, population growth is rampant, many foods sold to the public are toxic and dangerous and there are no urban areas where one can escape the problems associated with pollution. Under male rules, we have pillaged the planet and continue to do so with a belief that we have the right to control our environment and use it for our own gains. Control is at the core of male culture. 

Now that I can finally see the world as it is, I have begun to question the very rules associated with the man’s world. It’s not that I now want to adopt women’s rules, for they, too, have pluses and minuses.

I became involved in gender diversity, because I began to see the potential to heal the planet through a more balanced relationship between men and women and the masculine and feminine. I saw that the unquestioned male-dominated nature of business was imbalanced and had long since outlived its usefulness.

I am a stand for people being who they are and learning to take advantages of the natural differences between all people. This means a more integrated world and, I believe, a more effective one. I am a stand for the potential for innovation, collaboration and teamwork that can accelerate when men and women honor their mutual and different strengths and work side by side to take advantage of them.

For too long, women alone have taken up the mantle to address the gender inequities in business. It is time for men to stand up, too, and commit to the process of learning to join women in the process.

Men must look inward and be deeply inquisitive about the forces inside that create some of the negative externalities of progress that we often believe are the inevitable result of healthy competition. It is time for men to face ourselves as we partner with women in creating the next iteration of business and of life.  

Dr. Keith Merron is a senior associate at Barbara Annis & Associates, part of a team challenging the prevailing paradigms of business. An author of a number of books on leadership and organization life, he is co-authoring a seminal book on gender relations in the workplace called Cracking the Code on Gender Equality: The Gender Intelligent Organization. He also writes a column about conscious leadership for Real Leaders.

Views expressed in signed blogs and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and sponsors.

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